Everlost, p.36
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       Everlost, p.36

         Part #1 of Skinjacker series by Neal Shusterman
Page 36


  They sideswiped a car to the left, bounced off of it, and headed for the guard rail above the bay.

  Do you see what you did? screamed the jogger girl.

  “What I did?”

  They smashed into the guard rail, and Allie had a horrifying moment of déjà vu.

  The sound of crashing glass and metal. She was flying forward, she hit the windshield, and in an instant the windshield was behind her… …and yet this wasn’t the same as her fatal crash, for when she looked back she saw the jogger girl still in the driver’s seat, behind an inflated air bag. The girl got out of the car, frightened, bruised, but very much alive.

  Only then did Allie realize what had happened. The crash had thrown Allie clear out of the girl’s body. Now Allie was a spirit again, and on the hood of the Porsche, sinking right through it.

  Desperately she tried to find something to grab on to, but everything here was living world—there was nothing she could grasp. She felt the heat of the engine inside her as her body passed through it, and in a second she plunged through the car, which hung out over the edge of the bridge, and then she was falling through the air.

  “Oh no! Oh no!”

  She didn’t even feel the difference as the air became water—only the light around her changed. She was falling just as fast, and the dimming blue light of the bay became the charcoal darkness of the earth as she hit bottom. She could feel the mud of the bay inside her, and then solid bedrock. The density of the Earth slowed her, but not enough. Not enough. She was going down, and nothing could stop it now.

  Stone in her heart, stone in her gut. Soon it would get hot. Soon it would be magma, and still she would fall until years from now she would find herself trapped in the center of gravity waiting for the end of the world. Allie was doomed.

  Then she felt something grab her arm. What was that? She couldn’t see a thing in the solid stone darkness, but a voice, faint and muffled said, “Hold on to me, and don’t let go. ”

  And then she heard, of all things, the whinny of a horse.

  On Everlost coins, Mary Hightower’s books have only this to say: “They do not sparkle, they do not shine, and they contain no precious metals. These so-called ‘coins’ are nothing more than useless, leaden slugs, and are best discarded along with one’s pocket lint, or better yet, tossed into a fountain for luck. ”

  Chapter 29

  The Great Beyond At Mary’s insistence they had returned to Atlantic City to search for Vari, but he was nowhere to be found. In the end, Mary had to accept that something horrible had befallen him. Either he had slipped off the pier, or he had been captured by the McGill’s returning crew, and taken out to sea aboard the Sulphur Queen, which was also gone.

  She could have gone after the ship, but it wasn’t even on the horizon anymore, and there was no telling in what direction it had gone. As it had been when Nick and Lief were captured by the Haunter, Mary had to put her children ahead of her own desires. She had a thousand refugee Afterlights aboard the airship, and her first responsibility was to them. Van was lost, and it weighed heavily on her, for, it had been her fault and her fault alone.

  With mournful resignation, she ordered Speedo to take the Hindenburg aloft, and the ship of refugees resumed its journey north. Once they were airborne, Mary took to the stateroom she had claimed for herself, closed the door, lay down on the bed, and cried. Then she did something she hadn’t allowed herself to do for many years. She closed her eyes and slept.

  Nick, however, did not sleep. He was emotionally exhausted, and should have, at the very least, taken some time to rest, but there was too much on his mind.

  There were things that simply weren’t sitting right, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to relax until he figured them out.

  High up in the girders of the airship, Nick sat on a catwalk, in front of the bucket of coins that Mary had left in his care.

  Lief found him up there, and sat across from him.

  “They’re mine, you know,” Lief said. “I found them. ”

  “I thought you didn’t care about things like that anymore,”

  “I don’t,” said Lief, “I’m just saying. ”

  Nick pulled out one of the coins. It was so worn there was no way of telling what kind of coin it was, what country it had come from, or what year it was made. They were all like that—even the one he had found in his pocket way back when—the one he had used to make a wish in Mary’s fountain. Funny how both the McGill and Mary had a collection of these coins.

  As he held the coin, cool in his palm, Nick could have sworn it felt a little different. It felt almost…electrified…like a fuse completing a circuit.

  That’s when an understanding began to come to Nick—an understanding that Nick instinctively knew was the tip of something very big and very important. He took the coin from his palm, and held it between thumb and forefinger.

  “Did you know,” Nick told Lief, “that they used to put coins on dead people’s eyes?”

  “Why?” asked Lief. “To keep their eyelids from opening and making people scream?”

  “No — it was this old superstition. People used to think that the dead had to pay their way into the afterlife. The ancient Greeks even believed there was this ferryman you had to pay to take you across the river of death. ”

  Lief shrugged, unimpressed. “I don’t remember any ferry. ”

  Neither did Nick. But then, maybe people saw what they expected to see. Maybe the ancient Greeks saw a river instead of a tunnel. Maybe they saw a ferry instead of a light.

  “I have an idea,” Nick said. “Give me your hand. ”

  Lief held out his hand. “Are you going to do a magic trick? Are you going to make the coin disappear?”

  “I don’t know,” said Nick. “Maybe. ” He put the coin in Lief’s palm, then folded Lief’s fingers around it until the coin was firmly in his closed fist. “How does it feel?”

  “It’s warm,” said Lief. “It’s really warm. ”

  Nick waited and watched. A moment passed, then another, and then Lief suddenly looked up and gasped. Nick followed his gaze, but saw nothing—just the girders and hydrogen bladders of the airship.

  “What is it? What do you see?”

  Whatever it was, Lief was too enthralled to answer. Then, when Nick looked at Lief’s eyes, he saw something reflected in his pupils. It was a spot of bright light, growing larger and brighter.

  Lief’s expression of wonder mellowed into a joyous smile, and he said, “… I remember now!”


  “No,” said Lief. “My real name is Travis. ”

  Then, in the blink of an eye, and in a rainbow twinkling of light, Travis, also known as Lief of the Dead Forest, finally got where he was going.

  Mary called the coins worthless, but Nick now knew the truth. He also knew that Mary wasn’t stupid. She must have known the coins’ true value —their true purpose—and it troubled Nick that she would hide something so important.

  Lief was gone. Gone forever to some great beyond. The air where Lief had been just a second before now shimmered with color, but in a moment the shimmering faded.

  Nick no longer had his own coin—he had hurled it into Mary’s wishing well, just as every single kid in her care had done. It was a requirement of admission. But now Nick had an entire bucket of them in front of him.

  He reached in and pulled out another coin, placing it in his own palm, feeling that odd current again. The coin was still cold in his hand though, and Nick instinctively knew that while Lief had been ready for his final journey, Nick wasn’t. Nick still had work to do here in Everlost, and he had a sneaking suspicion he knew what that work would be.

  Hammerhead was happily, if somewhat unsuccessfully, gnawing at a girder when he saw Nick approaching. “What time is it?” he asked.

  “I don’t know. Noon maybe. Hey, Hammerhead, could you do something for me?”

  “Sure. What?”

/>   “Could you hold this for a few seconds?” And he put a coin into Hammerhead’s hand. “Tell me, is it warm, or is it cold?”

  “Wow,” said Hammerhead. “It’s hot!”

  “Good,” said Nick. “Would you like to see a magic trick?”

  It was late in the afternoon when Mary awoke. When she looked out of her cabin window, she saw the asphalt of the airfield tarmac. They had returned to Lakehurst. Speedo had told her he didn’t feel comfortable landing the airship anywhere else. It was hard enough to get him to land on the Steel Pier. She supposed convincing him to take them all the way back to Manhattan was out of the question.

  If they were lucky, the train would still be there waiting for them. If not, they would have to walk, following the dead tracks all the way home. At worst it would take them a few days to get there. Then she could begin the task of processing this large group of children, and integrating them into her society.

  In one fell swoop, the population of her little community had quadrupled — but as she had told them, there was more than enough room. She would convert more floors into living space. She would work with Finders to furnish them in comfort. And in the meantime she would give each of these children her personal attention, helping them, one by one, to find their perfect niche. It was a monumental, yet noble task—and with Nick’s help she’d be able to do it.

  When she left her cabin, she was surprised to find the hallways and salons of the airship empty. There were no voices coming from the higher reaches of the ship either. Nick must have already roused them and gotten them off the ship. He was very efficient, and it was good of him to let her sleep, although it wasn’t exactly her plan to sleep the entire day.

  She descended the gangway expecting to find kids clustered around, but there were none. There was only one figure out there. Someone sitting on the ground a hundred yards away.

  As she approached she could see that it was Nick. He sat cross-legged, staring at the Hindenburg. She realized he “was waiting there for her. Beside him sat the bucket of coins.

  Only now did Mary begin to get worried.

  “This is a pretty big dead-spot,” Nick said.

  “The entire tarmac,” Mary answered. “The death of the Hindenburg was a large-scale event. The ground here will remember it forever. ” She waited for Nick to say something more, but he didn’t.

  “So,” Mary said, “where is everyone?”

  “Gone,” said Nick.

  “Gone,” echoed Mary, still not sure she had heard him correctly. “Gone where, exactly?”

  Nick stood up. “Don’t know. Not my business. ”

  Mary looked into the bucket at his feet. To her horror the bucket was empty. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing—what he was telling her.

  “All of them?” She looked around the tarmac hoping for a sign that this wasn’t true, but there was not a soul in sight.

  “What can I say?” said Nick. “They were all ready to go. ”

  For the first time in her memory, Mary was speechless. This was a betrayal of such magnitude there were no words to express it. It was as awful, and as evil as anything Mikey had done in all his years as a monster. It was worse!

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